Friday, January 29, 2021

Traffic - Mad Shadows (1970)


Traffic released their third studio album, John Barleycorn Must Die, in July 1970. It came after a year-long hiatus, during which bandleader Steve Winwood was a part of the supergroup Blind Faith, along with Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker of Cream. After said group's collapse, which was due to Clapton's infatuation with their opening act Delaney & Bonnie and Friends (of which he and Traffic guitarist Dave Mason would become members), Winwood stuck around with Baker for his Air Force project (where they were joined by saxophonist Chris Wood), and after that band's initial run, started work on his first solo album, tentatively titled Mad Shadows. With Traffic drummer Jim Capaldi remaining as his lyricist, he got as far as recording two songs completely on his own, before inviting Capaldi and Wood to accompany him, and thus, a Traffic reunion was born, with the band quickly recording the remainder of the John Barleycorn album and going back on tour as a three-piece. That means Mason, who was already prone to quitting the band and coming back before the hiatus, doesn't contribute at all to the album, a first for him. Even with his earlier comings-and-goings, he was still a vital part of the band's two studio LPs, with his songwriting taking up almost half of their second, eponymous record. However, John Barleycorn Must Die was only the first in many Mason-less Traffic albums, with the band managing to find much success without the guitarist throughout the early '70s.

Mason, who also enjoyed a pretty successful spell as a solo artist in that time period, did reunite with his former group on one occasion, however. After touring the US both as a three-piece band and with the aid of bassist and Blind Faith member Ric Grech, the members of Traffic decided to play in an extended lineup, with Capaldi switching from drumming to being a frontman/backup singer, and drummers Jim Gordon and Rebop Kwaku Baah being added to their lineup, alongside earlier addition Grech. Mason, who had already released his Alone Together album in 1970 and had been a member of Derek and the Dominos for exactly one show, was invited back in for a series of six shows, culminating at the Oz Benefit Concert in London. With those performances being professionally recorded, a live record entitled Welcome to the Canteen was released, in order to fulfill a contractual obligation with their United Artists label. After those six performances in July 1971, both Dave and the group went their separate ways again, the former recording an album with Cass Elliot from the Mamas and the Papas, and a Mason-less Canteen lineup recording the fantastic The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys album. After that, they were never to reunite, leaving Welcome to the Canteen to be the last recording of the original four-piece lineup of Traffic, a great farewell to one of the '60s' greatest bands, who unfortunately couldn't put their personal and musical differences aside.

So, what you might already have figured out is the theme of this reconstruction is: what if Dave Mason had returned to the band during their 1970 reunion? And to answer that question, we'll have to set up some ground rules first. Mason wrote 3/10 songs on their first album, and 5/10 on their second, so 40% of Dave Mason songs seems like an appropriate amount for this album. Considering the original John Barleycorn Must Die album was pretty short, at 6 songs and 35 minutes, we'll allow two more songs, bringing our total to eight numbers. Still less than their previous records, but considering there are some pretty long songs on the album, it's a fair number. No covers were included in either of the band's first two albums, which means I'll try to keep this album focused on original material, to the detriment of the album's title track. In all, we'll allow Mason three songs, while Winwood/Capaldi get five tracks. Two live recordings will be used, as the Canteen versions of two of Mason's songs are quite literally Traffic versions of Alone Together songs, which is what we're looking for in the first place. They fit in pretty well and don't sound out of place at all, which means there isn't much of a problem in using them, at least in my view. And since we can't use the John Barleycorn title, why not use the working title for Stevie's first solo record, Mad Shadows? Well, in order not to slow things down further than we already have, here's the tracklist we'll be using for Mad Shadows:

Glad (John Barleycorn Must Die)
Freedom Rider (John Barleycorn Must Die)
Empty Pages (John Barleycorn Must Die)
Took More Than You Gave (Welcome to the Canteen)
-
Stranger to Himself (John Barleycorn Must Die)
Sad and Deep as You (Welcome to the Canteen)
Every Mother's Son (John Barleycorn Must Die)
Look at You, Look at Me (Alone Together)

Bonus tracks:
John Barleycorn (John Barleycorn Must Die)

Wood, Grech, Gordon, Baah, Capaldi, and Winwood in late 1971

The dilemma of which Mason songs to include starts off pretty easily, with two songs that were actually performed by the band, "Sad and Deep as You" and "Shouldn't Have Took More Than You Gave" being pretty much no-brainers. Songs that could also be considered for inclusion are "World in Changes", "Waiting on You" and "Just a Song", which come from the early 1969 period where Mason was a part of Wooden Frog, which consisted of Jim Capaldi, Chris Wood, and Wynder K. Frog, basically being a Winwood-less lineup of Traffic. As much as I like those three, due to the time they were written in and the circumstances surrounding Wooden Frog, those three fit in with Stevie's Blind Faith material much more than with his later, 1970 material. A reconstruction for another time, maybe? The remaining two songs on Dave's Alone Together LP, "Only You and I Know" and "Can't Stop Worrying, Can't Stop Loving", sound much more like Delaney and Bonnie than anything Traffic could or would've possibly done, which means they get given away to the duo (who already did the former justice when playing it live in late 1969). That leaves us with the Mason/Capaldi co-write "Look at You, Look at Me", which besides sounding a lot like a Traffic song, features Jim himself on the drums. Considering other co-writes by the duo had already been featured on Traffic albums, I expect that to be a pretty non-controversial inclusion, of what's probably one of Dave's greatest songs.

Traffic's five inclusions are pretty obvious, the five original songs from the John Barleycorn Must Die album. As much as I like the title track, it had to be deleted to make room for one Mason song, and since it was the only cover on the album, and was pretty similar to "Sad and Deep as You", it had to go. The arrangement on the Barleycorn songs would remain virtually identical, since Dave didn't contribute much to Winwood/Capaldi songs even when he was a part of the band. The only things I can see him doing are adding rhythm guitar to "Empty Pages", a proper bass part to "Freedom Rider" and maybe harmonica to "Stranger to Himself", but other than that, Winwood, Wood, and Capaldi get along pretty well without him. The two Welcome to the Canteen songs also remain virtually identical, with Capaldi performing the drums instead of the Gordon/Baah duo, and maybe Mason adding an acoustic guitar to "Shouldn't Have Took More Than You Gave", in order to bring it closer to the studio version's arrangement. The one song that allows for some additional speculation is "Look at You, Look at Me". However, I can see it sticking pretty close to the Alone Together arrangement. Dave tackles acoustic and lead guitar, Stevie plays the organ and bass guitar, Chris plays the flute, replacing the piano part (as with "Sad and Deep as You"), and Jim plays the drums and sings backing vocals. 

Clocking in at 44 minutes, with two 22 minute sides, Mad Shadows is honestly as good of an album as Traffic's self-titled second album, with both Mason and Winwood at the top of their game as writers and musicians. I don't consider this to be an improvement over the John Barleycorn Must Die album, but I do think Mad Shadows is a worthy equal to it, a brother from an alternate universe, if you may. For the album cover, I simply used the rejected artwork for Stevie's first unfinished studio album, which was later reused for Mott the Hoople's own album, also titled Mad Shadows and also produced by Mr. Guy Stevens. What a coincidence! I simply took the original image, removed the title and band name, and added the Traffic name and title to the middle of the cover, which I honestly felt worked pretty well. Considering that even without a strong hit single the John Barleycorn Must Die album did pretty well in the charts, we don't need to worry about the fact that this album doesn't have an obvious single either. I'd probably still issue "Empty Pages" as the album's single, only having "Sad and Deep as You" on its b-side, of course. Even though both parties enjoyed tremendous success after going separate ways, it's still tantalizing to imagine how things could have been, had they managed to put their differences aside and worked alongside each other, even for only one more album. Well, it seems the best we can do is this, compile these songs and listen to them alone, but together.

Sources:
- Traffic - John Barleycorn Must Die
- Dave Mason - Alone Together
- Traffic - Welcome to the Canteen

3 comments:

  1. Hey there, folks! In case you were curious about my Blind Faith/Wooden Frog album, here's what it looks like:

    TRAFFIC - BLIND FAITH (1969)

    Had to Cry Today (Blind Faith)
    Shanghai Noodle Factory (Last Exit)
    World in Changes (Alone Together)
    Medicated Goo (Last Exit)
    -
    Sea of Joy (Blind Faith)
    Waiting on You (Alone Together)
    Just a Song (Alone Together)
    Can't Find My Way Home (Blind Faith)

    Capaldi would obviously re-write some of the Blind Faith lyrics, and arrangements would change considerably, but you can tell there's a pretty good album there! :D

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  2. what about the fourth Stooges album? :)

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    1. I actually have a Stooges album in the works, but it's a third album from 1971! I should upload it sometime this year, :D

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